THE OLD POETIC

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TRANSLATIONS OF OLD ENGLISH POETRY

By Rupert Granville Glover  |  M.A. (Hons), LL.B. Hons (Cantuar)

 

The Poems

The Seafarer

About myself I can sing a true song,

telling of my experiences in days of hardship,

of my frequent suffering in hard times,

of the bitter sorrow of heart I have lived through;

for many a ship has been an abode of sorrow to me

in my venturing, when the anxious night-watch

has kept me at the bow of the boat, where terrible

waves tossed as she drove past cliffs. My feet

were numbed, bound by the frost with fetters of

coldness, and sorrows sighed hot around

my heart; hunger from within tore at me, so weary

of the sea. The man whose lot is cast most

happily on land does not know how I have

been on the ice-cold sea winter-long, wretched

and sorrowful, hung with icicles, cut off

from dear kinsmen, in the paths of exile;

hail showers flew. I could hear nothing there

but the roar of the sea, the ice-cold wave.

Sometimes the song of the wild swan served as

entertainment for me, or the cry of the gannet

and the noise of the curlew instead of the laughter

of men, sometimes the mewing of the seagull,

instead of the merry buzz of the meadhall.

Storms battered the sheer cliff, the cry of

the ice-feathered gull responded; repeatedly the

wet-winged sea-eagle screamed back; and

there was no friend or kinsman who could comfort

the despairing spirit. Indeed, for the man who

has lived a pleasant life in the dwellings of men,

free from dangerous adventures, splendid and merry

with wine, it is hard to understand how I, exhausted,

often had to remain in the seaway.


                              Night thickened,

snow drove from the north, frost gripped the ground,

hail, those cold kernels, fell on the earth.

And so thoughts torment my heart

now that I am to venture on the towering

seas, the tumult of the salt waves - my

heart's desire repeatedly urges the spirit to

journey, so that far from here I seek out

a country of aliens - for there is

no man on earth however proud at heart,

generous with gifts, vigorous in youth, or

brave in deeds; [there is no man]* however

friendly to his lord who, before seafaring, is

not always a little anxious as to what

the Lord will bring him to. His thoughts

are not on the harp, or on the receiving of rings,

nor in his pleasure in woman, nor his joy in

worldly things; nor are his thoughts on anything,

anything other than the rolling of the waves, for

there is never any peace of mind for the seafarer.


The woods take on their blossoms,

adorning the dwellings and making the meadows

beautiful: the world revives. All these things

urge the heart of a thinking an to voyage,

urge a man with an eager spirit to venture

far on the paths of the sea. Likewise the cuckoo,

the turn-key of summer, sings with

a melancholy voice, announces sorrow,

a remembrance bitter to the heart. The warrior,

the man blessed with comfort, does not know

what they suffer who travel to the farthest

the paths of exile.


                              Now my heart journeys out

from my breast; my spirit ranges far and wide

over the haunt of the whale, in the ocean tide,

across the expanse of the world, then comes to me

again, full of impatient and eager longing.

The solitary bird cries across the expanse

of ocean, whetting irresistibly the longing of

my heart for the sea, for the joys of the Lord are

warmer to me than this dead transitory life

on land.


                             I do not believe that worldly prosperity

endures for ever. One of three things always

weighs against it until a man's time is up: illness,

or age, or the violence of the sword can snatch

the life of a man doomed to die.


                                Therefore

the best memorial for every man is the praise

of those who live after him and commemorate him;

and this he may earn by good actions on earth

against the wickedness of enemies, by opposing

the devil with noble deeds, so that the children

of men will afterwards praise him, and his glory

will live then forever among the angels, in the blessedness

of eternal life and bliss among the most noble.


The days of all the magnificence of the kingdoms

of the world are gone. Kings and emperors and

givers of gold are not now as they were of old,

when between them they performed the most glorious

deeds, and lived in most lordly renown. The whole company

of noble warriors has fallen, those joys have passed

away; now inferior men live and control the world,

occupy it in toil and trouble. Glory is humbled

and the nobility of the earth grows old and withers,

as does every man now throughout the world of men.

Old-age overtakes a man, his face grows pale,

he mourns grey-hairs, realising his former friends,

the sons of princes have relinquished the world.

Then, when life has gone, the body may not taste

sweetness or feel pain, move the hand or dream

in the mind. Though for his brother born

a brother will strew the grave with gold, bury

him with various treasures beside the dead,

gold to go with him, it cannot be a help

to the soul that is full of sin in the presence

of the terrible power of God, to the soul of him

who has hoarded it beforehand, while still alive

on earth.


Great is the terrible power of God, before

which the earth will turn aside;

He created. the firm ground., the sweep of the earth

and the sky above.


47


A fool is he who does not fear his Lord.; death

will find him unprepared.

Blessed is he who lives humbly; grace

will come to him from heaven.

God will make steadfast his soul, because he

trusts in his power.

A man must provide himself with a strong heart

and keep it in check,

and he must be true to his pledges and pure

in his ways.

A man must regard with equal temperance both

friend and foe

although he would rather consign his enemy

to the fire.

Though he may not wish the friend he has made

to be filled with fire

or consumed. in the inferno, Fate is more powerful,

God mightier,

than any man's understanding.

Let us think where we have our home,

and then think of how we are to get there;

and let us then also endeavour to arrive there

in the eternal bliss from which life springs,

in the love of God and joy in heaven.

For this be.thanks to Holy God that

He exalted us, the Prince of Glory,

the everlasting God, world without end. Amen.


* Interpolation due to textual lacuna